A Mainstreet Radio special broadcast from Lake Benton. A discussion on Minnesota's wind farm on Buffalo Ridge outside Lake Benton.
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NPR's Main Street radio coverage of rural issues is supported by the blandin foundation committed to strengthening communities through grant-making leadership training and convening better. Good morning and welcome to a special Main Street radio broadcast from the southwestern Minnesota town of Lake Benton. I'm Rachel reeving we've traveled to this rural remote community of 700 people to talk about wind power the fastest growing energy source in the world like Benton modestly calls itself. The original wind power capital of the Midwest. In fact the huge 20-story high wind turbines that Loom over these prairies are the largest single Wind Farm project in the world my guest this morning our Lake Benton. Mayor Marlin, TomAnn and Jim Nichols the former State agriculture commissioner and legislator who now works on economic development projects in this part of the state there with me in Lake Benton where we're broadcasting from the deck outside the John see Fremont Emporium joining us from our st. Paul studio is Audrey zimbelman director of energy marketing for northern states power company, good morning and welcome to all of you and listeners. Our phone lines are open for your questions and comments. You can reach us at one eight hundred five hundred 75252. The number again is 1-800-585-9396 showers that moved across the country 10,000 years ago pushed up a huge Ridge of dirt and rock in the middle of the Prairie the 200 mile long Buffalo Ridge which runs from South Dakota across Southwestern Minnesota and into Iowa provides the ideal setting for wind power. Jim Nichols. Tell us why well, Rachel living here all of our life weThe wind was a little too much at times, but now we're glad to have it. We are 2,000 feet in the air here at Lake Benton. It's the second highest point in Minnesota. And when you have a huge expanse of Prairie and all of a sudden you have a steep escarpment of land that juts up 2,000 feet. The wind has to flow over that it is compressed at picks up speed as it flows over and actually as it goes down the backside it even speeds up even more. It's called the waterfall effect. So anytime you have a piece of land that jumps up sharply. You're going to catch a lot of wind and we're lucky to have it and we always call the Prairies the Blustery prairies anyway, so even without Buffalo Ridge, this is a big Wind part of the country. Yes, it is. It's and actually five states are the best in the United States Minnesota the to Dakota's Montana and Wyoming could produce more than enough electricity for the entire United States just from wind that's how strong our resources Audrey zimbelman. That's your job with northern states power company. When did you firstStart looking into the possibility of wind power. Actually NSP started looking into wind generation as early as 1980. We had a project in 1982 or we stablish 14 wind monitoring States sites around the state to basically look at various wind speeds and see what would be the best resources and 1986. We had a small project we developed at about a hundred and twenty ninety five kilowatt, very small project near Holland and then mid-80s. We announced it to 25 megawatt project and then right after that a hundred megawatt, so we've actually been in a win business quite some time.Now Minnesota's first full-fledged introduction to win power came about five years ago. When the Minnesota Legislature required NSP to develop a wind power project in exchange for permission to store more nuclear waste Audrey zimbelman. Have you found that wind power is cost effective or is becoming cost-effective or is that a lengthy process before you can turn that corner? Well, the price for wind energy has come down considerably over the last 15-20 years as we we've gone into looking at wind generation. However wind as a resource continues to be much more expensive than more conventional resources. It also poses an additional issue in the fact that the wind generation is only available when in fact the wind blows and people use electricity all the time. So one of the well when provides value to the system in the sense that it is a no emitting type resource. It also has very substantial.Limitations because it is only available on a what we call an intermittent basis. And as we sit here Jim Nichols, we can see the wind turbines about two miles from us and we see one of them turning in one of them is not turning but yesterday I'll bet all the turbines were blowing here. It was a windy day yesterday. But even today as you can see it's blowing a papers across the desk here. So the this project is in the startup phase really Rachel and in the end when it's windy at all all of them will turn so we're just in the beginning phases here. And so are you taking a Long View Jim Nichols that at some point that wind power will be competitive with coal or nuclear power. Well, I think Audrey said it very well and has to be is to be committed. I was with Governor purpose when we dedicated the ones in 1986 at Holland and the cost then was 10 to 12 cents. Now, we're down to around three and a half cents a kilowatt and with the federal tax credit and Zahn believes will get that price below 3 cents. That's a very competitive price Cole today, too. The plan would be about five cents nuclear wouldn't even be affordable. The older nuclear plants are about one point eight cents. So when you get in that three and a half cent range, it's a very good price and it's a long-term contract as well. The price is fixed for 30 years. Our phone lines are open for your questions and comments listeners. You can give us a call and join this conversation by calling 1-800 500 75252. The number one eight hundred five three 75252. How do you feel about wind power? And do you think it's worth the investment give us a call and join our conversation today Marlon Thompson, you are the mayor of this town of 700 people Lincoln County is not the most prosperous county in the state. In fact, it's on the other end of things last year. It was one of the poorest counties in the state in terms of per capita income. Did you desperately need this shot in the arm? Well, I think so it certainly is assisted the city and the surrounding area in the entire County from a Of aspects and when power is something that is certainly needed and it's something that has been a tremendous benefit to the entire area. Not only the City of Lake Benton and in terms of how many wind turbines are how it's been impacted talk a little bit about that the impact on the city has been from a number of aspects some of those have been related to the operational aspect of the maintenance facility. And what have you and Jean did install their operational Maintenance building within the City of Lake Benton which of course add it to our tax base which was important to us, but they also brought with this project the number of jobs and jobs are Mighty important, of course and the during the construction phase we had approximately a hundred and fifty jobs were created and some of those of course on a part-time basis and then it came to when they started with the actual operation of the facility we had about another 20 individuals or On a full-time basis and the number is still growing. So it just good things coming from that alone. And this community is like many small rural communities that reach their Peak population perhaps in the 60s and then started to lose population. You were down to what at one point. Well we were down to about 650 at one point. And of course back in the early 70s, the population was nearing 1000 but number of things entered into the decline of populations. So we're at a point now where we think we're on the upswing Jim Nichols. Do you have any idea how many landowners here have benefited from the wind turbines? We know that in this part of the state. We have over 300 wind turbines operating any idea how many people that would represent in terms of having those on their land. Well, actually the numbers closer to 400 that have now been built and that stretches over Three Counties Rachel and we have the two projects here south of Town in north of Lake Benton. So it's more than 50 Farmers that have benefited directly from monetary payments either lump sum payments are percentage of the gross operating Revenue. So it's been very good for our farm economy and is Marlon said it came about at a time when we were struggling the 80s was hard on all of her old Minnesota Lake Benton was no exception. It was hard on Farmers the farm crisis and it's been in my judgment. It's the greatest economic thing that has ever happened to Lincoln County and I've lived here my whole life Main Street reporter Mark style is standing underneath one of the huge wind turbines on the farm of earnest and fluorine Bannock for miles Southeast from where we are in Lake Benton. Good morning Mark. Good morning Rachel. We're on the Bannock Farm as you said and we've been treated to quite a show here in about the last 15 or 20 minutes when we came to the wind turbine blades were not turning. It's been a pretty calm morning, but then the wind started blowing just a little bit in and we heard Motor start and we saw the top of the wind turbine pivot to face into the wind and then slowly the blade started turning another going around at a pretty good clip and it's quite a sight with each of the blades being about 50 feet long as it pivots in the wind and from this Hilltop, I can see at least 50 or 70 wind turbines to the northwest of us and then to the southeast if I turn that way you can see about an equal number some within a few blocks and and others miles away. Ernest in the fluorine Bannock have have seven of these wind machines on their land and they've become quite attached to him. In fact fluorine has even given names to some of the turbines what sort of names did you come up with faithful and lazy bones and Basse and do you watch these with machines each state of to see what they're up to? Oh, yeah, because you always know what direction the wind is from and how fast they're going in just about tell what direction how how fast the wind is and at night if you're laying in bed, you can listen and if the ones across the road or swishing then the winds in the north, if you have it isn't then the wind must be in the South because I can't hear you're retired now from farming but during your farming days and even now is this a fairly windy spot this Hilltop that were on right now. Well, I think it's about the windiest part of the country that around here because Years ago when my dad was farming away every time we had to go out and pick her Ox, of course the wind worth more than 30 40 miles an hour or so. What do you think about wind power? I mean, does it make sense to you? Oh, yeah, I'd make you a good sense to me because long as the wind is there why not use it years ago. They used any Farmers around here used to have 32 won't win Chargers and got electricity off of them do. What kind of agreement did you come to with the company as far as providing the land for these wind machines? I assume you get paid something for. Oh, yeah, we got we got paid a good lump sum and right away in the beginning and there was no argument because we was glad to see him come through here. It's something that the region can can build on. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Fluorine, you told me you like to listen to them and watch them. How about the idea of wind energy? Was it something you thought about before the for the wind machines went up here, or is it something new it was something new, but it was interesting. Seeing and it gave a lot of local people jobs and neighbor boy works on the crew that takes care of the East and several Farmers around here their sons. They're all in son-in-law's are working for exams and the various companies that help put those up. Ernest I notice that the land is still farmed to a great degree on these hilltops where the wind turbines are is a difficult farming around these wind machines. What sort of situations is that posed? No, it isn't any trouble firemen are on the road. You're not any any of the Renard have never complained about it because they they know it. They're that's that's it. When you can maneuver around them with with the tractors, the concrete pads actually are not that big. There may be 20 feet square maybe a little bit less than that in the and that's about it. That is taking it taken up by the wind machine. You're all like years ago hear them wet years we had well, we had a maneuver around the Mud Hole soon. So it is many different now. That's Earnest Bannock. And we've also been talking with fluorine Bannock. We're high on a Hilltop about four miles from you Rachel and we'll send it back to you now. Thank you. That's our Main Street reporter Mark Style on location under a wind turbine. Just outside of Lake Benton Jim Nichols. Mr. Bannock talked about getting a lump sum to have these seven wind turbines on his property. Is that usually how it goes? Well, that's the way it started here. And I think it was a learning curve in you have to commend NSP because they wanted to do it right our turbines here is you've commented are all the tubular turbines which are probably aesthetically more attractive than than the lattice type towers and they've got four different types of wind turbines in this project now for different companies, so they really tried to do it. Right and I think in the learning curve initially they came out and made a lump sum payments and I know south of town the bannocks and others we served received those lump sum payments in some cases. They were quite large Rachel they I bought the wind rights and wind right is like a mineral rate. So, you know, we all hear mineral rights, whether it's gold or coal or oil or whatever. Well in this case wind is just a mineral its treated like a mineral right the problem with that is once the mineral right is sold that money eventually is lost from the community. So hopefully they'll be more of the percentage of gross payments and Audrey's implemented that just seemed to make sense initially just to buy the wind rights out, right? Yes. Actually one of our concerns is we looked at when development in Southwestern Minnesota is mr. Nicholson jet a state of we we wanted to make sure that aesthetically the area looked looked good and we didn't have a lot of different types of tower types. That's that's what happened in California. And that was one of our concerns the other is that because when generation is geographically specific you want to put your windmills where the best wind is we were concerned that there would be a lot of land speculation and that would drive up the cost of the Resource and so what we did is we went out and we cite we identify what we believe would be the best site for the wind farms and negotiated with the farmers. The other reason we did that is we didn't we wanted to make sure that all developers had a fair chance to develop the project and we felt that by us having the wind rights that would mean that we wouldn't have one developer trying a bit out another developer and rather that site would be available for everybody and that's and that worked out very well. I think as a result of that the wind prices that we have seen in Minnesota for wind generation is considerably lower than other parts of the country. So Marlon Thompson haven't seen a mad rush for people to snap up the highest land around Lake Benton. Oh, I don't think that's the case. In fact, most of the land of course is be either been in families for years and years or we have landowners who have taken an interest in this from the beginning and I might add a extremely important part of all of this are the farmers who have in the landowners who have provided the space for all of these turbines. Well, let's talk about this idea of the lump sum payment. I can imagine for the bannocks and older couple that would be marvelous to receive this really gift of money to have these wind turbines on their land what happens though Jim Nichols when the bannocks sell their farm and new people come in and try to make a go of it in the wind rights are already gone that money's been paid out and spent well as the bannocks know their land actually will be worth less when they go to sell it and even when they pass it on to their children because you've sold valuable. Of that resource and in some cases here the wind is it's better than farming actually Rachel. So you're going to get more money from the wind. How would you like to see it structured? What would be a better idea? Well in NSP is actually doing this now, they're letting the wind developers go out and acquire the wind easements and the NSP puts out the power contract and it's by bid and the award the power contract and those when developers get the easements generally historically that's been a percent of gross Audrey is right in that their fear was initially there'd be a fight over the best land and potentially it could drive up the cost of the wind. So to be fair and SP purchased the wind rights and then let the wind developers didn't have to get by the wind rights. They that was already there. They just had to put in a bid for the cost of construction which was good. But now is the project gets larger and and we see when developers in South Dakota and Minnesota trying to get the best land in there out actually getting the easements on the prowl. Now not NSP and I think long-term. That's the way it will go because NSP doesn't want to be out there. I don't think Audrey buying wind rights all up and down the ridge. Are you done buying wind rights Audrey? Yes, I and I agree with that that is our concern initially was to make sure that we could get the Project's done and avoid land speculation. Now that we're looking at expanding the geographic area and and effectively the product that the whole process is matured more. We determined that the best next step is to then to have the developers go out and acquire the land the wind resources themselves. I think Mike said this initially and I think it's this is an important part. This is the largest wind project that's going on right now in this country and one of the things that we've learned and I think the community has learned is is that we started off everybody trying to do the best thing all the times and we're all learning and we're working on different things and as each project comes in we learn a little bit more about We learn a little bit more about the resource and that's that is really helping and I think as wind develops its going to and amateurs as a technology people. Will the developers will need to look at things like acquiring the land rights working with the farmers to make sure that they feel that they have the best deal that they want to get and looking at other things such as transmission that are that are all be essential in order for win to become a viable resource. Let's go to our phone lines. We have Mike from st. Paul standing by good morning Mike. Welcome to the program. Thank you. I just wanted to when I went to school at Gustavus and did a lot of research there and wind power they were it's always been it's been talking there about bringing that into the school and but you know it never it never ends up working as far as because of money and things like that. But but what I found out is that there are so many students out. There are just hundreds and hundreds of students out there that are Really interested in being involved with this and they don't know how to get involved with it. One thing and the other thing is that I think they should be because there are so many there it basically would be probably Free Labor because there's so many people that are you know in the 20 in their 20s trying to figure out what to do with their life interested in wind power, and I just wanted to let that be known. So it's something you're very interested in seeing it develop. Yeah, definitely. Now, let me ask you this question Mike. If you had a chance to pay more for your electricity and know that that energy was coming from wind power instead of a coal generated plant. Would you be willing to do that? Definitely? Yeah without a doubt and you think your other minnesotans would go along with you. I think that that a lot of people would I think especially in Minnesota Minnesota is a place that I get. The feeling is very concerned about that type of Type of movement Audrey zimbelman, what would your comment beyond that? Well, I think that's true that a lot of people and there have been some experiments along. These lines will are willing to pay additional amounts of to purchase what renewable resources whether its wind or solar or biomass. I think it's important for everyone to understand. However, that Windows resource is not controllable and one of the things that electricity is, it can't be stored and when people turn on their lights or they turn on their computer whether or they turn on their air conditioner, they need it 24 hours a day. And so while wind is a resource that can be used it can't be a substitute for coal or nuclear or gas resources that we can control and while it's good to develop really. Well. We think it's beneficial to develop renewable resources. They always can be a compliment and the issue is how much more are we willing to pay in order to? To help develop the Renewables. There's always a cap and it always and it depends on in people's individual choices. That's one of the benefits. We see actually from a choice program is it gives people that chance we go now to Minneapolis where Scott is standing by. Good morning Scott. Welcome to this Main Street special. Yes. Hi. I had a quick question. I'm familiar with the the can attack wind farm in Wyoming and I knew they had a problem of birds being killed by flying into the rotors and things as wondering if you guys had that same kind of problem and if you've had any devices installed maybe deter birds from doing that. I'll take my answer offline. Thanks. Thank you. Scott. Has there been a problem with birds that you know of Marlon? Is that been a problem? I'm not aware of that being a problem here at all Rachel. I live pretty don't have any on my farm, but I have quite close to I have never seen a bird killed ever and we've had them here since 1994. First of all, the turbine spin generally around 30 revolutions per minute very slowly and the birds have no problem getting out of the way far more birds. I've seen killed somebody hitting with their car. I mean, you know, it's really bird kill. It's just not an issue Audrey. Did you have a comment on that? And we did do some avian studying at the I think it's a Pollution Control agency or an environmental board in Minnesota asked us to do and a lot of the wind turbines are on flyways across the country. That was a problem in California and I believe in Wyoming especially in California people are concerned about the Eagles the wind turbines in Lake Benton do not have the same issues. I think there are some small birds and I believe there might have been an issue with Geese, but not it not in the amounts are not at the problems that they saw elsewhere. I think the other thing that we did here is the truth that blades are also painted black and it allows the birds to see them a little better also the The reasons we went to tubular as opposed to the lattice type Towers is it avoided the birds nesting in the lab in the towers, which was also a problem with the other types of towers. So it was an issue that we were aware of and we saw to address the best way we could we're talking about wind power with our guests Audrey zimbelman from northern states power company economic developer and former State agriculture commissioner Jim Nichols and like Benton mayor Marlin Thompson, I'm Rachel Reba and you're listening to a special Main Street radio broadcast from the southwestern Minnesota town of Lake Benton home to the largest wind farm project in the world. Mpr's Main Street radio coverage of rural issues is supported by the blandin foundation committed to strengthening communities through grant-making leadership training and convening will be back with more of Main Street after look at news and weather. My name is Shackled. Mm. What was the ship? Did you miss the broadcast of walking out of History our new documentary about shackleton's amazing endurance Voyage? It's 28 men. In the fight of their life, he always found a way out. You can find the whole program on the web at www.mptv.org Plus photos of the Expedition and more. It's walking out of history on the web and www.mptv.org. Good morning with news from Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Greta Cunningham. A Wisconsin State appeals court says a woman accused of trying to drink her fetus to death cannot be charged with attempted murder. The judge has ruled that the term human being does not cover an unborn child under state law Deborah Zimmerman had been in a bar the day she gave birth. Her daughter was born with a blood alcohol level nearly twice the state standard for drunkenness Zimmerman was charged with intentional homicide and Reckless injury the child had a low birth weight and Mild physical abnormalities. She's now three years old. And in foster care a decision is expected today in a controversial case out of Pennsylvania involving a toddler on life support a judge is deciding whether to Grant custody to the state which wants the boy taken off life support. The boy's father could face murder charges for allegedly shaking the child and causing irreversible brain damage. The child's parents are fighting to maintain custody of the child and they say they're against removing life support for religious reasons in Regional news authorities expect. File more charges today in connection with the weekend disturbance in downtown st. Joseph the st. Joseph police chief says his officers have identified 12 more people that will be charged with disorderly conduct and unfair lawful assembly. They were identified from video tapes made during the melee early Saturday morning 20 people were arrested at the scene when about 300 young people filled Main Street and threw rocks and bottles at officers and lit bonfires. The crowd was dispersed in about 90 minutes and no injuries were reported officials at st. John's University in the College of Saint Benedict say the incident is prompting them to rethink their graduation weekend activities for next year the forecast for the state of Minnesota calls for mostly sunny skies Statewide and warmer temperatures today highs ranging from 75 in the north to 85 in the South Clear Skies tonight in the East with clouds in the west and a slight chance of a shower or thunderstorm in Western Minnesota lows tonight from 45 to 55 degrees checking current conditions. Mostly sunny skies around the region Rochester reports sunshine and 66. It's sunny and Cloud and 69 sunny in Duluth and 67 and in the Twin Cities. Mostly sunny skies a temperature of 68 degrees. That's a news update. I'm Greta Cunningham. I'm Rachel re be in this life Main Street radio special is coming through from the back deck at the Fremont Emporium in downtown Lake Benton where we can see the wind turbines turning in the distance listeners. You can join our conversation by calling us at 1-800-501-7737 one eight hundred five three seven 52 52 and we will go back to the phone lines where we have Russell from Minneapolis standing by good morning Russell. Hi, good morning. I wanted to make a comment on the comparative cost of wind power with with coal energy and nuclear energy wind power is far Fajr less expensive far far cheaper when you add in the cost of Public Health public health effects from either either nuclear power or coal-burning plants called you have the air pollution problems including Mercury which has contaminated our fish and the cost of Health content care as a result of air pollution is very expensive nuclear power. In addition. You have the cost of waste storage radioactive waste some of them including plutonium. One of the most serious of all the Rydia radioactive waste has a half-life has a life for 250,000 years. They're stored in in storage tanks that at best have been figures are will last for 700 years and that may be optimistic what the cost Audrey zimbelman from northern states power company a chance to address some of your concerns. And Audrey, how much does NSP factor in of the surrounding cost for producing energy. Would you address that question? Yes, actually when we go out and we look at new resources Minister. We do look at these what we call external environmental costs, but I think the way I look at it as this on at NSP where I work on a 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We have people buying and selling and turning on generators in order to meet the needs of customers. And when I the cost of the wind generation when it's when we use it is anywhere between 30 and 40 cents that we and SP has to pay for it in comparison when we go out on the market for particularly during what we call our off-peak hours. We can buy energy between nine cents to 22 a 17 cents. And so when I when I look at the cost of wind energy compared to Others we're still continuing to pays considerably more for the energy the other issue and I think at all it's important that we don't lose sight of this people in terms of electricity in general. It's an essential resource. People need it all the time. One of the things that is absolutely critical that coal and nuclear provides us as a resource is it is available all of the time on demand and unless until because when does have its very nature as we can't control it. We're always going to need these type of Base load resources that are going to meet people's needs when they need electricity. When you turn on your computer, when you turn on your lights, when you open your refrigerator all these things that we demand on our daily lives for electricity. We're going to need these types of resources to help meet that demand that doesn't suggest it's an either/or proposition the the cult the whole goal is to have a diverse mix of resources, which I think NSP actually has does a quite a good job of to make sure that To keep electricity in a way that it's economically inexpensive. It's competitively priced as well as reliable that is going to be continued to be very essential. Our phone number is 1-800-543-8242. If you'd like to call and ask your question we go now to Richard in Minneapolis. Good morning, Richard. Let's see if we can get Steve from st. Paul on the line Steve. We got you on the phone. Yes. Good morning. This is Deborah had with you Richard. Yes. Go ahead with your clothes. Okay, thank you. I'm confused. This just now the NSP spokesperson talked about cost of 30 or 40 cents for wind, but I think the guy from the Southwest Regional Development Area was talking three three and a half cents, but maybe that could be addressed by other issue though. Particularly for the NSP spokesperson is this whole idea that she just brought up again of reliability that is you know, the wind doesn't blow all the time. Well, that's that's completely true that's obvious. But you know, we get so little from wind right now and I want to know how much could we be getting from win before we actually have a problem with that concept of reliability. I mean is a temper Saint is a 20% how much could we get compared to how much we have now and also that goes to You know, how are we supposed to know how much we're getting? I mean, I have no idea how much we get from coal from wind from nuclear. Why don't we just on a monthly basis have the electric company tell us where this power is coming from just put it on our bill. Audrey's Implement, let's start out just isn't it about 70% in the state that it's supplied from the coal-fired plants. No, that's that's not correct. Actually, I can address this a couple ways are in terms of Minnesota itself or NSP had so far we have about less than 50% of our generation is coal-based another 35% is nuclear. And then the rest is some gas and purchases. We actually have quite a bit of hydro in our mix because of our contracts with Manitoba Hydro as well as the hydro plants in that NSP owns. So it's roughly about 20 percent comes from non emitting hydro and wind resources terms of the the point is wind about a 1% wind is about 2% if we look at the energy and once we complete the 425 425 megawatts that we'll be putting in. It's about three to four percent and that the reason we look at it. That way is that when we look at in terms of energy production because that's what you really need is how many how many megawatts are kilowatt-hours do you get out of it wind produces it about 20 to 25 percent of the time on average we've seen producing on the on the projects. We have between 15 and 18 percent actually depending on whether it's summer or winter, but between the low 20s is an average and in the summer even less which is during our high peak times. So the issue to me of reliability is if you say that the wind is available in the summer months during high peak at 10 percent of the time than you that you need it. Then that means that during the remaining 90% of the time you're going to need additional energy resources that you can control in order to meet your needs and that will require expensive basically investment in different types of plants that you maybe just sitting idle some of the times and other times I did that. We'll be turning on and off and that's part of the challenge. I think as we look at when does a resource is determining? What is that appropriate mix right now with the 206 megawatts that NSP has online today. We're at the most that we've ever seen out of that 206 is 85 Mega Watts, which means that if we're going to continue to look at when does a resource we need to be realistic as to what it can produce and and how it's going to be able to meet needs the gigantic wind turbines that dot the landscape around Lake Benton are operated by Enron win Corporation. We have the president of Enron Robert Gates on the phone with us from their company headquarters in California. Good morning. Mr. Gates. Good morning, and thanks for the opportunity to share this time with you. US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson says the Lake Benton wind project is the first big test of wind power from your point of view. How do you think it's going we think it's going well it is the first of the relatively large scale installations in the Great Plains basically built on schedule and we're going through the sort of teething teething time when we get everything dialed in correctly and get it running reliably at the same time. We're doing that for the NSP projects were also putting in projects for some Utilities in Iowa. So there's a combination of working through the startup bugs and completing the complete completing the construction on several other very large facilities simultaneously, I expect that we'll see the reliability and the productivity of the Plants increase over the next year such that when SP is looking at how much they get from window. I believe though see the percentages increase we think on an annual basis ought to be able to count on between 30 and 40% output. Although that is to some extent weighted more towards the winter when the wind blows and little less one the summer when it's calm and I think Audrey's Point earlier is correct the challenge that we have as a society as well as our companies is to most efficiently use these renewable resources and it's something new it's not just turn on a valve and burn a fuel so we have to figure out how do we do this in a way that's a reasonable balance. Now you operate your company actually operates in his developing wind projects around the world and in some places. They are providing as much as 15% of the power output. I'm thinking of the place in Germany the Northern State of schleswig-holstein. Do you think that's possible here? Audrey's Implement talks about word about two percent we could get up to 3 or 4% Are we ever going to get up to the 15% 20% 25% Do you think I think that there's I think that you can on a physics sense. I know in California the Pacific Gas and Electric Company major utility serving the better part of the central part of the state on some summer afternoons. I understand is getting 20% sometimes more from the wind. I think that the amount of wind you can have goes with the attitude that the utility and the People have toward wind if the attitude is this is a problem. We can't figure it out. Well, then you can't figure it out and it is a problem on the other hand if the attitude is by golly. It's a clean resource here and we're just going to figure out how to use a lot of it. Well, then I think that will be the result also in a mankind has figured out all kinds of things and using wind to make electricity. It is not a really difficult thing to figure out. So I think it's that the ability to use wind is entirely in our control and has entirely to do with our attitude of how we look at it Audrey zimbelman. How would you respond to that? I think that in the in the realm of physics which you can produce is is what you know, what the megawatts you put in at the real issue is what is the resulting price and are people willing to pay for that one of the things that we know in California's at the average price of electricity. Proto deregulation was I think between 12 and 14 cents a kilowatt hour in Minnesota people pay between five and six cents and I think Germany I'm not quite sure but I think that's probably more expensive to and that's not to say it's bad or good. It's just a question of again recognizing that there's and I think of it as a three-way three-legged stool. It's always a question of doing what you can to protect the environment making sure you're using your best resources wisely and then also thinking about economy and Pete and then fact that electricity is an essential Service as well as reliability and that I think is going to take the way we look at it. We see this the 425 is providing a lot of incredibly valuable information to us to determine how we can best use wind in our system that will help. I think lay the way for figuring out the best way to add additional resources in a state and again, we would hope that as we move forward it's not just NSP and that's consumed. That are participate in this but the customers of other utilities as well. Robert Gates, we began this program talking about why this part of the country is so windy and we talked about Glacier activity in Buffalo Ridge your company operates worldwide. What are some of the other windy places on the globe? Interestingly in most places there is most places. There's adequate wind in particular along the Seacoast where you have differentials in temperature between the oceans and the Inland and Inland in lands generally being warmer than the oceans and heat differential causes when you have a fair amount along the coast in Europe and North America, you have a huge amount of the Northern Plains as you've described in Central America and for that matter around the world in the trade wind belts, of course you have wind that's blowing most all of the time in Asia in China is virtually every place you have when in selected locations, one of the challenges of working with wind is that the wind resource is usually in places where it's where it's windy prominent. Graphic features like Buffalo Ridge. However, mankind has been clever enough to put its towns and cities and places where it's not windy as can be and so moving the power from where the resource is to the people where the people are. It is one of the challenges as we move sort of from putting power plants in the middle of the city where the people are to a more distributed generation mode. That's the transmission of the power is one of the issues and is Audrey has stated all of this is in the context of the economics of the whole thing. What what cost at what cost the you get what benefit and where where is a balance and I think the balance moves with time as peoples changing attitudes towards environment and costs move than so does the optimum balance move? And what is the potential here? We look out at the landscape. We can see the turbines turning on the Ridge and the distance at some point in your mind. Can you see many more turbines in this part of the state? Yes, I think that the you can make wind in a treasonable commercial prices today along the Buffalo Ridge virtually from Canada down into Iowa As you move from the Buffalo Ridge to the west of the wind continues to be good clear on out to the Rocky Mountains in Montana and Wyoming and so on the whole east side of the Plains and the Rocky Mountains Eastern, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas all are reasonable wind places in today's world where the technology of wind has brought the cost of wind generally generated electricity down to close to the close to the cost of conventional power generation, and we think with some continued development. I can be competitive on just a just a plain straight economic basis and all of the environmental benefits as just an add-on. Robert Gates, thank you for your time this morning. We've been speaking to Robert Gates who is the president of Enron the corporation that operates the wind turbines. I have a question for you guys sitting here with me and like Benton. It's so windy were holding onto our papers and I have to hold my pen. So it doesn't blow away. Why is that turbine? Not turning in the distance. We have one turning and another one that's standing still. Whenever there's a problem the computer automatically shuts it down. So I would say and it's always almost always a minor problem because they start back up very quickly, but the head of Maintenance out there mark Pearman, I'm sure he's probably I know he's listening in fact, so he probably start that way. He has it under control Jim. It's all under control matter of little maintenance and it will be back up and running. So it's not that it's not windy enough. No, that's not the case at all. Okay, let's go to our phone lines and we have lots of callers. Thank you for your patience we go to Saul Now in Winona. Good morning sir. Good morning. I'd like to first point out that I get my power from dairy land power, which is just right across the river from Winona in Wisconsin, and we were they have a program where we can individuals can sign up to buy wind power and I pay a few more dollars a month. I think it's about four dollars more a month and based on how many people signed up they built that many more generators actually in the area that you're broadcasting from. So even though I don't know if my electrons came from there, I I'm paying for that much. More wind power being added to the grid and I'm glad to do it because do that and we'll yeah, it's I'm not contributing to all the environmental consequences that result from nuclear and gas in an in coal and I'd like to point out that n is p said that they need nuclear and coal for reliability. However, those are very obsolete sources of power. If you look at all the new power plants being constructed their natural gas natural gas or wind or conservation. Those are the sources of energy for the future and coal and nuclear. We are we need to phase out because they're expensive if you taken all their costs and they have all these added effects towards for our state. So this is my question for you. If you're willing to pay four dollars more a month. Would you be willing to pay twenty four dollars more a month or forty four dollars a month? What's your ceiling for? What you would go to support wind power. I'd be willing to pay a lot more but at some point as I paid more and more I would be sure to conserve more and more electricity because conservation is the same as if you use less power. It's the same as producing that much more power. So the more I be willing to pay, you know, let's say twenty five dollars more a month and but as it went up I would be make sure that I was really looking at the use of power in my house to make sure I was minimizing it also is always paying more so that I actually, you know would try to reach some happy medium. I think right now our electricity our energy sources are so cheap that people don't pay attention to all the waste that that's occurring in our system. Thanks for your call this morning we go now to Port Wing, Wisconsin where Chris is standing by. Good morning Chris Hi, how are you doing today? I'm fine. Great program. I'm real interested in a couple things. I'm going to renewable energy. Do you learn distributor? I work with Great Northern solar up here and the NSP representative indicated that the availability and reliability issues with Renewables were a big problem. Is this person aware of the availability of hydrogen as a storage medium. I'd like to talk or just a briefly about that. Audrey's Implement, could you respond to that? Yes, I am aware of the hydrogen and other other types of storage facilities. There are a number of different research projects going on to look at storage. However, it continues to be a non-commercial in the sense. It's more it's too expensive to put it in commercial base with there is a there's a couple groups and Energy Research group that NSP and many other utilities participate in I know is looking at that issue. I I would I you know one thing I do want to add before. I'm sure there's another question we NSP has a has on its Internet site to for those listeners of yours who are interested a lot of information on Renewables as well as links to other sites and I would encourage anybody who is interested in Renewables and how their participant to actually look on that internet site and there's a lot of good information there. Thank you for your comment. We move now to Rochester where Esther is standing by on the phone. Good morning, Esther. Hello. Yes. Can you hear me? Okay, I can't hear you. But I'm calling Anna and it's an issue that has kind of been addressed by other callers as well. But I attended a energy specifically a wind energy conference about two years ago in this area. And one of the bits of information that we were left with was the fact that if you add in the cost of storage for nuclear power plants, it makes it the most expensive source of power available and that also coal-fired plants. If you factor in again the cost of federal subsidies to produce ship and whatever else it is, the federal government is helping with in terms of Distributing coal as a fuel source that that makes it as expensive as renewable biomass and possibly as expensive as wind energy. And so my question is, you know, when we're giving these numbers as to what it cost. Produce various, you know in energy from various fuel sources. Are we really factoring in these other costs specifically taxpayer-financed cost because in effect were paying for a lot of this energy twice we pay for it as consumers to producers such as NSP but I am led to understand. We also pay for it upfront as taxpayers because we have specific subsidies that go to help for whatever reason various producers Audrey zimbelman. Do you want to address that yes there and I'm not familiar with all the various Federal programs and tax is when I when I look at the prices for different types of energy, I really get down to how much is it going to cost me and how much it's going to cost my customers on their meter. There's different programs. For example, I think about Gates alluded to it. Their production tax credit for wind is about a penny and a half a kilowatt hour. Right now which means that if you were looking at if you took away that credit when would be in a five-and-a-half to six cents range. And so I think it's difficult. I mean we can get into a lot of debates fundamentally when I asked the question and I look at it on a date and day day in and day out basis. My question is how much is it going to cost me 10? How much do I need to charge my customers for different types of energy resources and conventional Technologies continue to be the more competitive. I think it is true that as people are looking in putting a new power plants natural gas has the primary resource are there a lot of issues and citing coal and certainly nuclear is would be very difficult to build in this country. But the my major point is is that and I think everyone needs it would appreciate that ultimately in terms of having a very sound economy. What we need to do is have a good mix of resources that are dependable and available. All the time wind has a very critical role in a beneficial role. It could play it. Play not a substitute for other resources. It's an it's it's a compliment in the closing minutes of our show Marlon Thompson. I want to ask you do you expect tourists to begin coming to Lake Benton to view wind power in action here? Have you seen people come to visit? Well, we certainly have its really been a one of the spin-offs. I guess you could say that we really hadn't expected but it's been that way and number of Tours have been arranged and Jim you've taken part in some of those and people's quite interested Jim very very interested and I might also add that another part of the wind power end of it is first of all and Ron and NSP of both really been good neighbors to the community, which I think is extremely important. They've really cooperated in both directions and that's something that we're very pleased to have and along with that the community has the theme of original wind power capital of the Midwest. You're too modest. We're all so proud of that as well and we have done some things. Community to back that well, you're even thinking about a museum here are you we are a museum that will combine with a Learning Center which will provide information regarding wind power. We are halfway through this Main Street broadcast from Lake Benton Our Guest this morning have been Lake Benton. Mayor Marlin Thompson Audrey zimbelman from northern states power company and economic developer Jim Nichols. I'm Rachel re be a next hour. We'll turn our attention to the coming deregulation of Minnesota's electric industry some 20 states have already opened their electric Industries to competition or in the process of doing so Minnesota's Commissioner of public service has set a Target date of 2001 to begin the deregulation process. Will it improve service and lower rates or will deregulation have the opposite effect? We'll talk about it when our Main Street special from Lake Benton continues after the news.